The philosopher and educator John Dewey (2012), in his Democracy and Education, discusses education as “the formation of mind by setting up certain associations or connections of content by means of a subject matter presented from without. Education proceeds by instruction taken in a strictly literal sense, a building into the mind from without” (p. 69). The sense in which education is here noted encompasses both the cultural mores introjected by the individual and the instruction found within the more formal curriculum offered by educational institutions. The former is often intimately associated with particular values resulting in protestations of “culture wars,” leaving the latter in a potential void.
Education is a democratic principle undergirding the public need to be both informed and capable of rational inquiry, the building blocks of a government by the people for the people. A populace incapable of rational inquiry is as Paul notes in his letter to the Ephesians “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but he sleight of men and cunning craftiness…” (Eph. 4:14). Considering education then as being void of judgment or valuation seems unhelpful and needlessly vague, resulting in an ideological vacuum to be filled by any demagogue with a microphone. With this in mind, a good educational system begins with a core set of values that inform the identification of particular issues and concerns which a plan is then set up to address.
The first value is that of informed living, originally put forward by Socrates in the dictum “know thyself.” Essentially a question or declaration of inquiry towards understanding one’s relation to and within the world within which is lived, informed living is placed in juxtaposition to a world philosophy that would first have us decide what we do, physical action circumventing imaginative construction. The child who wants to be an astronaut first had to look at the stars and imagine being among them, she/he was not given a space shuttle and told to fly (however much I’m sure many children would likely find that absolutely amazing).
This issue of informed living is particularly important as it relates to the concerns of students and the communities in which they live. In a country where children are given smart-phones almost as soon as they learn to walk, information flow is constant, enormous and complex. Navigating the intersecting relationships of family, society, school and friends is not something that can be addressed by #Google Maps. Rather, the person comes to these interstitial points and from out of the unconscious rubrics taken in and created from the many and varied social influences, acts accordingly. Informed living helps create a gap between information and action, the difference between mere thinking and knowledge. In addition, it provides a means of identifying healthier behaviors which are an outgrowth of values and judgments that have been deliberated upon.
Deliberation is a natural and inevitable outcome from informed living, bound within conscious decision-making rather than puerile responses. Without going into the ethics at this time, the concerns of students and communities is principally that of future-setting, a determination of a set of goals and achievements that will be reached based on a culturally created timeframe. To be a productive member of society is not simply to be moving, as if mere motion sets the standard of value. Rather, productive entails active engagement, which requires deliberated upon intention or informed living. The difference here is between the person who waits for something to happen to them and the person who seeks out the means to manifest what awaits in the imaginative domain of their social minds. The difference here is between the homogenization of the individual to that of the gang resulting in social deviancy and the person who is actively creating relationships with peers and those older leading to the building of a more integrated and interrelated community. As noted in “Wheels Within Wheels,” the cognitive creations of each individual are the amalgamation of their total experiences, to know them is to know yourself better because none of us are outside of a community existence.
This latter issue, that of an integrated and interrelated community, is the primary concern to be identified by any educational system looking to work within the value of an informed democratic society. The practical implementation of it is through the creation of working relationships not only with students but with their families, the communities in which they live and the current educational structure already in place. These relationships encourage self-reflection by the students through education and a mindful awareness at all levels of each role in the facilitation of educational goals. This is fundamentally based on an appreciation for the decision-making process that we all as human beings are beholden to, a context-based apparatus full of unconscious musings for which we struggle to bring to mind and a co-creating social structure we have with each and every person we come into contact with, as noted in “Edges Not Core” and “Dependence Is Not Loss Of Freedom“.
The implementation of these practices requires an identification of those with the passion to bring change and growth, a consideration of potential resistance and the protocols of addressing such concerns that arise. This will not happen when we continue to be more concerned with that which separates us than that which we share. This will not occur as we continue to be concerned more with the antics of pop stars than with the dehumanizing message of giving corporations equal rights to individuals and a political system bent more towards ideological absolutism than discourse.
Informed living is an educational value, but when faced with the dehumanizing element as noted above, it becomes a civil value as well. As Dewey noted: “For we live not in a settled and finished world, but in one which is going on, and where our main task is prospective, and where retrospect — and all knowledge as distinct from thought is retrospect — is of value in the solidity, security, and fertility it affords our dealings with the future.” (p. 151) Our future is not nor should be at the mercy of those organizations or systems that see people as traded commodities. In each and every one of us is the present potential for an immediate manifested future that encourages informed and deliberated upon living.